22 July 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Sweet Summer Pea Soup

CHIAVARI, Italy - Long before I decided to move to Italy I worked as a cook at the Syracuse Hotel, in Syracuse, New York. The Chef, who was from Switzerland, had been trained in Europe and had worked in some pretty impressive restaurants. He was delighted to have me in the kitchen for unlike the rest of the staff, I was interested in food, I liked to cook, wanted to learn
 They Don't Call Me Sweet Pea for Nothing
Most of the others wer ex-military cooks whose culinary training consisted of a Mess sergeant telling them to cook whatever they were cooking until it was dead, real dead. And they did.   

Unfortunately the Chef and I didn’t work together very often. He did volume cooking for banquets and weddings which required massive amounts of food cooked in pots that were bigger than my bathtub and I was assigned lunch duty at one of the hotel restaurants and responsible for the cold dishes  served at the Sunday brunch. 
 Just Defrosted, Not Cooked 

Lunch was a lot of work but brunch was fun. On Sunday mornings I would go into the giant walk-in coolers and see what was left over from the banquets and events that had been held during the week.  

Whatever was in there was what I had to use for the brunch table, but first it needed to be transformed into “new” food. It was a fascinating journey because there were always unusual and interesting foods, like hearts of palm, to experiment with.

What I found one auspicious day was a tray of hollowed out  tomatoes that had been filled with something smooth and green. I tasted it. Puree of peas most certainly, but there was also something else, something I couldn’t identify but made the puree very, but very delicious. I couldn’t wait to see the Chef and ask him what the other ingredient or ingredients were.
 So Good
“Calves brains,” he said when I finally caught up with him. “It’s a puree of peas with calves brains.” 

Oh yuck!

That kind of put a damper on my love affair with pea puree that is until last summer when I decided it was time to try it again. After a bit of thinking I came up with a simple version that is actually quite delicious. Not as delicious as the puree in the Chef’s stuffed tomatoes, but delicious enough that my friend Gary took the recipe home and made it for Chris, his significant other. It got a thumbs up.

As with many of my recipes there are no exact measurements, so you'll have to use your own best judgment.
Sweet Summer Soup

One large bag of tiny frozen peas (not defrosted)
1 bouillon cube (vegetable or regular)
1/8th teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
Boiling water
A tiny pinch of salt

Dissolve the bouillon cube in enough boiling water to cover the frozen peas. When dissolved, turn off the heat and add the entire bag of frozen peas. Let the peas sit in the hot bouillon for a minute or two until they are defrosted, but not cooked.  

When the peas are defrosted put them, take them out of the broth and put them into a blender. Add a small amount of the boullion and puree on medium speed until perfectly smooth. The soup should be thick, but pourable. Add the fresh lemon juice and stir. Transfer to a glass pitcher and cover. Let cool. This soup is best served cold. 

In Chef Thomas Keller’s best selling cookbook “The French Laundry” there is a pea puree soup similar to mine except I don’t think he adds lemon or lime juice but what he does add is a few drops of white truffle oil just before serving. He also serves the soup with cheese crisps, aka fricos.

Fricos can be made in a nonstick sauté pan one by one, or in batches on baking sheets in the oven. The idea is to just sprinkle enough cheese so that it melts and creates a crispy, lacy circle that holds together.  Makes 8 crisps.

  Parmesan Fricos

1 cup finely shredded or grated parmesan cheese.


Heat the oven to 375°F. 

Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of grated cheese to form a 4- to 4-1/2 inch round.

Spread the cheese evenly with a fork.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture, leaving 2 inches between each round.

Bake each sheet (one at a time) until the crisps just begin to color, 6 to 8 min.

Don't let them fully brown or the cheese will be bitter.

Use a spatula to lift the edges of the crisps and loosen them from the baking sheet.

Remove the crisps and immediately lay them over a rolling pin or the side of a bottle to give them a curved shape.

Or for a flat frico, just transfer to paper towels.

You can eat them as soon as they cool or store them in an airtight container for up to two days.

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